Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 09:46 AM EDT

Japan Resumes Whale Hunting After 31-Year Ban

Jul 05, 2019 08:19 AM EDT

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The 31- year whale hunting ban was just lifted off by the Japanese government effective July 1st following the country's exit from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last December 2018.

Three decades ago, Japan placed a whale hunting ban and joined the IWC.  For decades as well, the country has presented several "sustainable whaling" proposals, all of which were rejected.  Japan grew impatient of this policy and decided to leave the Commission altogether last December and consequently reinstated its whaling practices which outraged the international conservationists' society.

It has been suspected that Japan still managed to continue its whaling practice even with the ban. Many suspected that Japan had been using a loophole in the IWC agreement that allowed whaling for research purposes as a cover for commercial whaling. In fact, it was documented that Japanese whalers killed 333 minke whales during a supposed research expedition to Antarctica where after they allegedly sold the meat on the open market.

Before the whaling ban first took effect 31 years ago, whaling was a common and centuries-old practice in Japan. It took on a special significance in the post-war years following the country's defeat in World War II, as whale meat served as the main source of protein for a destitute and struggling population.

The recent move though seems impractical given that the demand for whale meant has plummeted, even drastically among the Japanese which has further fueled arguments from advocates to put an end to its whaling practices.

Yet despite the international criticism, lifting of the ban was celebrated by several who have long-awaited for the country to return to the said tradition.

 "Today is the best day," Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, said. "It was worth waiting for 31 years."

In fact, whalers left no time to waste and according to Japan Today, five vessels equipped with harpoons left the town of Kushiro in northern Japan while another three boats left Shimonoseki in south-western Japan right on the morning that the ban lift took effect. The ships have a permit to catch whales this year in domestic waters.

The vessels returned hours later with two whales, one of which spanned more than 26 feet. The whales were later brought back to a warehouse where workers poured ceremonial cups of celebratory sake over their bodies which is a common ritual intended to purify the catch.

In the face of heavy opposition, the Japanese government maintains that because whaling holds such a significant role in their cultural practice, it should, therefore, be exempt from outside criticism. For fishermen like 23-year-old Hideki Abe from Ishinomaki, it is a chance to revive a fading tradition.

"I'm a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling," Abe told Agence France-Presse just before the first fleets departed. "I don't think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat anymore. I want more people to try to taste it at least once."

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